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Sermon, August 23, 2020 | Grace Reformed Church

Despair or Praise?
Sermon Series: 
Psalm 43
Matthew 26:36-46
Date: 
Sunday, August 23, 2020

Despair or Praise?

Psalm 43

Like I mentioned last week, Psalms 42 and 43 are kind of a package, and actually exist as one Psalm in a number of manuscripts, and that is owing to their unity based on this refrain that appears three times and also their thematic unity. Here we are reading and experiencing the grief of the Psalmist that is clearly rooted in the fact that he is 1. Absent from corporate worship for a period of time, far from Jerusalem, far from home and thus feeling far from God, and 2. That he is assailed on all sides by enemies. Those are the two things working together to cause him grief.

Well I took the lead of others who have preached through this and grouped these two Psalms a little differently. Because of the clarity of the issue that we found in the first five verses of Psalm 42, of being separated from the worshipping church, last week we really looked only at thos five verses of Psalm 42. If we use the verse 5 refrain as a delineator, we studied really the first “verse” of this hymn, and stayed on that theme of how we should value corporate worship. The second half of Psalm 42 actually has a bit more similarity and unity with Psalm 43, because it broadens the focus a bit. He is distressed about not being in corporate worship, but that is amplified by many other trials and pains around him. So to look at that, and then see how the two psalms fit together into a whole message, let’s begin by reading Psalm 42, beginning in the middle of verse 6, and continuing on through Psalm 43. Listen, this is God’s Holy Word.

Psalm 42: 6b-11

My soul is cast down within me;

    therefore I remember you

from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,

    from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep calls to deep

    at the roar of your waterfalls;

all your breakers and your waves

    have gone over me.

8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,

    and at night his song is with me,

    a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God, my rock:

    “Why have you forgotten me?

Why do I go mourning

    because of the oppression of the enemy?”

10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,

    my adversaries taunt me,

while they say to me all the day long,

    “Where is your God?”

 

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,

    and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

    my salvation and my God.

 

Psalm 43

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause

    against an ungodly people,

from the deceitful and unjust man

    deliver me!

2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge;

    why have you rejected me?

Why do I go about mourning

    because of the oppression of the enemy?

 

3 Send out your light and your truth;

    let them lead me;

let them bring me to your holy hill

    and to your dwelling!

4 Then I will go to the altar of God,

    to God my exceeding joy,

and I will praise you with the lyre,

    O God, my God.

 

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,

    and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

    my salvation and my God.

 

The Word of the Lord.

Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you in turmoil within me? These are big questions, and I’ll be honest, I’ve been asking myself these questions a lot over the past few years, but especially in the past several months. I will admit to you that there have been plenty of times where I could describe myself over the last few months as being defeated, like I’m being assailed on all sides, from directions I could predict and others that I did not at all expect. It’s been difficult. How about you?

For years we’ve been steeling ourselves against a known and predictable enemy, the great creeping of sin into our culture. And at times it’s felt much less like a creep and more like a flood. Truths that we thought were the most basic to our existence, the most unequivocal, have been turned on their heads. There are so many, but among them the idea that men are men and women are women. I don’t know how many times I’ve turned to Meagan after reading something in the news and say to her, “the world is upside down.” And the cultural revolution, this upending of truth hasn’t avoided our churches, our denominations either. Never mind the social issues that pick at the edges of our denominations and lead to splits, it’s actually much more concerning when we see churches discussing things that never would have been discussed before, theological matters. Issues that actually have life or death consequences because without them you don’t have the gospel. Well, the whole bible isn’t true, right? Jesus really wasn’t a real person. Or he is just one of many paths to God, etcetera. We’ve gone over many, many of these issues at some point or another in the past year.

These, these were the attacks I was expecting, the ones that we’ve been shaking our heads at in disbelief for years. The institutions of the Christian Church and basic morality and the most basic truths being turned upside down. And then there is a pandemic. Didn’t see that one coming. And in addition to morality and the institution of the church, the pandemic laid bare the great inadequacy and failings of even more institutions—our political institutions, our news media that is meant to check them, our scientific community, big corporations, social media. We’ve watched hatred and vitriol spewed back and forth between leaders, yes, but also friends and family. It’s shown us so much. It’s shown us the limits to which people in elected office will go to exercise power over those whom they’ve been entrusted to serve. It’s encouraged us to look at our neighbor, who may have a different tolerance for risk based on any number of reasons, to look at them and if they don’t agree with us, we are to hate them. That’s not how everyone actually feels, but that is certainly what our national climate is encouraging us toward. And with all of us returning to school tomorrow, or in another week, this situation has and continues to fundamentally transform everything about how we do our jobs, as it has in so many other industries as well.

And then suddenly, years of racial tension boil over into the streets, stoked by powerful people with bad motives – didn’t see that one coming either. Leading to riots, anarchy, and violence that we just don’t even have words for. Several cities I’ve spent a fair amount of time in over the last decade rendered unrecognizable by the chaos. Since April there have been little images shared on the internet saying to the effect, “what more could 2020 possibly have in store for us?” And there is some real truth to that. 10 million acres of crops and many towns destroyed in Iowa from the kind of storm I’ve never witnessed in my life. Closer to home, fires raging all over the West. And goodness, is there any end in sight?

It’s been a tough year, and saying that definitely doesn’t fully express the depth of the pain and the hurt that has struck people individually throughout the world this year. I’m sort of incredulous about the whole thing, aren’t you sometimes?

We can certainly say right along with the Psalmist, here in verse 7

Deep calls to deep

    at the roar of your waterfalls;

all your breakers and your waves

    have gone over me.


Like I said last week, there is a lot of nature imagery here, and it’s perfect for the situation. We were in Yellowstone last week, and got close to a few waterfalls. Have you ever taken that little trail down to the brink of the lower falls of the Yellowstone River, in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone? We did years ago when our kids were much smaller, and if we’d known what it was going to be like, we wouldn’t have gone. When you get to the top of that, and see thousands, millions of gallons of water going over the edge, you can see it, hear it, feel it dropping three hundred feet before it hits the bottom. It is awe-inspiring, awesome in the real sense of the word. And kind of scary when you’re holding a really squirrely three-year-old. That’s the imagery here.

All your breakers and your waves have gone over me. Again, using water imagery. The first is the awesome, frightening power of the waterfall, the second the violence of tidewater at the sea. I’m sure many of us have swum in the ocean, and there is nothing like standing toward shore and being hit by a breaker that hits your entire body at the same time. Fun, but also scary. Maybe you’ve experienced at the ocean getting in a little over your head (no pun intended). There are times when the breakers keep coming, and you can’t get on your feet in between them, and you get tossed around by the waves. It’s a really helpless feeling. And isn’t it amazing how different this water is than the water that he first mentions, the gently flowing stream that feeds the deer. This is the Psalmist right now, being tossed about, disoriented, the pressures from all around are a constant roar. I think we can relate to that here, in 2020.

I just outlined many of the things that we are collectively struggling with, as a people in this time, but the psalmist actually has a more specific category of things troubling him, and it is something that is expressed often in the Psalms. Psalm 42 verses 9 and 10:

 

“Why have you forgotten me?

Why do I go mourning

    because of the oppression of the enemy?”

10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,

    my adversaries taunt me,

while they say to me all the day long,

    “Where is your God?”


And then stated again in the outset of Psalm 43:

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause

    against an ungodly people,

from the deceitful and unjust man

    deliver me!

2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge;

    why have you rejected me?

Why do I go about mourning

    because of the oppression of the enemy?


In the outset of Psalm 42, as we looked at last week, the psalmist was distressed by not being able to be with fellow believers in corporate worship, and here we see even more pain, pain from enemies on all sides, pain from unjust and ungodly people. Not only is he not in the sanctuary with his true family, the people he is surrounded with are wicked, they taunt him for his faith. He describes them as a wound in his bones. So the more specific waves and breakers that distress him are much more like the first ones I mentioned us struggling with. He is grieved by an ungodly culture all around him.

But perhaps you noticed that when I went back to the text there, I excerpted all of the most negative parts, and they weren’t all together. They were actually interspersed with great confessions of faith. Every time the psalmist expressed his grief and anguish to God, he immediately reminded himself what, that God is his rock

all your breakers and your waves

    have gone over me. – yes, but

8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,

    and at night his song is with me,

    a prayer to the God of my life.


Breakers, waves, beating down, my soul in turmoil. But what is God in all that? Steadfast love. That word in Hebrew is chesed, a word that appears a lot and is translated into English as mercy, lovingkindness, and most often as it is here, steadfast love. It is the deep love of God for us, but more importantly, the implication that it is a love that will not ever stop. It cannot be stopped and because of that, it can be depended on. That is what we have, that is the promise of God.

So that is what the psalmist returns to again and again, even while he is expressing real pain and anguish. He expresses his anguish, cries out to God, then reminds himself of God’s promises and his great love, and then in light of that he asks his soul, “why are you troubled?” That’s the pattern that goes on three times here from Psalm 42-43. Expressing grief, and resting in his promises. So the simple, clear application for us today is, go and do likewise. 

But that’s not so simple, is it? What the Psalm describes is one of the epic struggles of the Christian life here on earth. We are to live our lives resting in God’s promises—that he has prepared great blessings for us—and we are at the same time grieved by the sin we see around us. And though it grieves us, we are not called to despair. Anguish, grief perhaps, but God is the rock that keeps us from despair. There are seasons in our lives where we feel the peace of God to a greater and a lesser extent, but we must never doubt it for one second.

And where can we go to see the greatest example of this? We need to go no farther than to look at our Savior, Jesus Christ. He was the perfect example of a human life lived. Was he not often grieved? Absolutely he was! Whatever righteous personal pain we feel when we see the wicked prosper, he had that seven fold. He felt the great weight, the great pain of all of that around him.

We do see Christ in anguish. It says in John 11 that when he heard that Lazarus had died and saw Mary weeping, it says that “He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled.” It says also in John 12, verse 27 that Christ was troubled when he considered his purpose on Earth: “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” This is at the start of Holy Week, he is days from his ultimate task.

So Christ was at times troubled also, but it was never a trouble that crowded out his real task and led him to despair. He remained focused on God and his goodness, even knowing the cup he was going to have to drink. Christ even says from the cross what is actually a quote of Psalm 22, “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me,” but it’s eerily similar to Psalm 43:2 “Why have you rejected me?” But Christ doesn’t end there, does he. He doesn’t end in grief, he says “into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Which is why the psalmist is resting, as we should, in the steadfast promises of God. Being grieved by things is not a sin. Not trusting in God is. Doubting his promises is.

So how do we do that? How do we trust more in God? How do we get to a place where his promises and his blessings are the rock on which we stand like the psalmist here? Well, this is where things come full circle. What is the psalmist going to lean on to build that trust? His grit? No. Psalm 43:3, he tells us. The strength comes from God to trust him, but the tool that he uses, the tool that he uses to apply that trust and faith, is the corporate worship that the psalmist is missing. Listen, Psalm 43:3:

3 Send out your light and your truth;

    let them lead me;

 

(The light, the truth, sent out from God. Let them lead you where? )

 

let them bring me to your holy hill

    and to your dwelling!

4 Then I will go to the altar of God,

    to God my exceeding joy,

and I will praise you with the lyre,

    O God, my God.


The light and truth of God will lead you back to worship. When you dwell on his truth, it leads you to worship. When you focus on Christ your Savior, it leads you to worship. When you reflect on the depth, the height, the breadth of all of the goodness God has lavished on you, what can you do but worship? And what does corporate worship do, right here? Last week we focused mainly on the point that when we’re thinking rightly about worship, we’re not here for us, we’re here to praise God, and that is our primary focus. The psalmist is definitely thinking rightly about worship here, isn’t he? We saw last week and we see it again here, God is his “exceeding joy.” It is greater than all others. Christ is our treasure, Christ is our only real joy. That is our posture coming here, we’re here to see our Savior.

But that does not mean that we don’t get anything out of worship. Let me say that again: we come here to meet God—we don’t come here to get anything out of worship, but we do. God uses our worship of him to bless us, while we praise him. Worshipping God has the power to steel you against all of these calamities. All of the breakers that are constantly pounding, this is where you gain the power to face them. This is where you gain confidence in Christ. God uses the church to give us that blessing of resting though we are grieved. It is the peace that passes all understanding. Run here, run to your Savior.

By the time the psalmist gets to the third of these refrains, it’s kind of a silly question.

5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,

    and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

    my salvation and my God.


Hope in God, because he is your salvation. All of that grief bordering on despair has turned to joy, hasn’t it? So why are you cast down? This is important for us to hear, because as I outlined earlier, the psalmist’s experience here in Psalm 42 and 43 is uniquely ours now, but it actually always is. We are always surrounded by those that would mock our Savior Jesus Christ. When that pain comes, he is the rock to which we run. The world is always waiting with pain and struggle to heap on us, but it is no matter. Do you want real confidence in the promises of God? Christ told his followers in John 16 that they were about to be scattered, it wasn’t going to be easy, but he said to them:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Amen, let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, keeper of eternal peace. Pour out on us that peace this day. Every time that we think that things couldn’t get worse, our enemies continue to get stronger, help us to run to Christ, and teach others to do the same. Help us to dwell in your shadow, on your rock, longing to be with you and with your people. In the mighty name of the one who saves, amen.

 

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